October 15, 2014

Last year, Stuart Williams, the executive director of the Cardiovascular Innovations Institute at the University of Louisville, said the heart would be the easiest organ to bioprint, using a combination of 3D printing and the patient’s own cells. It’s set a 10-year timeframe. As part of a talk atPennsylvania Bio’s Life Sciences Future conference this week, Penn State Hershey Medical Center surgeon Randy Haluck offset the excitement around the hey, presto ease of 3D printing organs with the complexities involved with fitting these devices into bodies.

Haluk pointed out that in some ways the technology associated with 3D printing — rapid prototyping — isn’t new. But the customization that 3D printing enables at a relatively low cost. It’s having the biggest impact in orthopedics with the FDA approval of  Oxford Performance Materials’ OsteoFab Patient-Specific Cranial Device. It’s also led to the production of disposable surgical jigs that function as plastic cutting guides to direct surgeon’s incisions.

But bioprinting such as 3D printing for organs and tissue, not so easy, as Haluk pointed out. “Without being too critical, I would suggest that [3D printed organs] look more like the organs they’re representing rather than function like them.”

One of the biggest hurdles with developing 3D printed organs is that all cells need to be about 200 microns from a blood vessel, Haluck said. Life science innovations are getting closer, but aren’t there yet. It’s not just about the proximity to blood vessels, it’s about the chemical environment too. “Organs need to exist in very precise chemically…. balanced environment and when anything in that space is disturbed, they can die,” he said. “It’s about getting a lot of puzzle pieces in the right order.”

Organovo has developed a 500 micron liver tissue and it’s collaborating with Johnson & Johnson.

Haluck pointed out that a substitute organ need not look like the organ if the function is more important than the approximation to the original organ. For example with the push for an artificial pancreas, maybe there are gels, beads and implants we can use rather than an entire pancreas

“I would say future is very bright for 3D printing, … some areas are nearing maturity but many other areas are decades away.”


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